A surprising number of animals have been to space including dogs, monkeys, tortoises, and obviously those pesky Homo sapiens. You might not know, however, that a cat has also gone to space – and a new project wants to make her a star.
On Kickstarter, an enthusiast called Matthew Serge Guy is seeking $53,000 to build a statue to the female cat, called Félicette, in her hometown of Paris. The world's first (and only) spacecat was launched by the French space program 54 years ago today, but her story is little known.
“Around six months ago… I became fascinated with Félicette’s story, how it had been forgotten over the years, and misattributed,” said Guy in a statement. “It felt like something big should be done to right these wrongs.”
If he achieves his funding goal, he wants to commission sculptor Gill Parker to build a bronze memorial 1.5 meters (5 feet) high to Félicette. The design hasn’t been finalized yet, but there are a few early ideas, mostly involving a cat on a pedestal.
Félicette launched from a base in Hammaguir, Algeria on October 18, 1963. It was an age where the Soviet Union and the US were only just starting to send humans to space – having practiced with dogs and monkeys. She was launched on a French Véronique AG1 rocket, reaching an altitude of at least 157 kilometers (98 miles) above Earth.
Although details are few and far between, we know the total flight lasted about 15 minutes. There were probably about five minutes of weightlessness for Félicette, but it’s unlikely she would have enjoyed the trip very much. She returned to Earth in her capsule via a parachute. After two to three months of being back on Earth, she was apparently put down, so her brain could be studied.
Various reports suggest Félicette was not the intended Astrocat, although this claim is contentious. The story goes that a male cat called Felix was supposed to be on board, but he disappeared on launch day. His replacement was one of 13 other cats that had been “trained” for the mission. Félicette herself had been plucked from the streets of Paris.
A second launch was attempted on October 24, with an unnamed cat on board. Sadly, this cat perished in the flight – along with France’s space program, it would seem.
Félicette’s story is certainly a peculiar one, though. So this Kickstarter hopes to bring her story back to the fore, and give her the send-off she never had.
“Félicette, alongside many other animals that have braved space travel in the name of science, was ultimately an unwilling participant in this experiment,” a statement from the team reads.
“In that respect, this statue should serve as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by all animal astronauts throughout the Space Race.”